It's late January in the Twin Cities. A snow emergency has been declared, and the Vikings have blown their chances at the Super Bowl in a most spectacular fashion, which means that it's a pretty typical winter around here.
Outside, the snow continues to quietly pummel the earth, collecting in huge, shifting mounds, devouring parked cars and snarling traffic into infinite knots. Now is the time for true Minnesotans to reminisce about snow storms long past, and about how this one is not so bad as some other mythic one they remember from their youth. That long memory is severely undercut by the collective amnesia that takes hold of the driving populace as we all collectively and immediately forget how to properly operate vehicles in the snow.
Tonight is one of those nights in which we are all stuck at home (except for you naively positive wackadoos who insist, in the face of all evidence, that winter is just wonderful and you're going to go out and sled or something right now). My heart goes out to all you aspiring actors who will not be auditioning for a bunch of theaters tonight, since the evening round of Park Square's general auditions was cancelled. Hopefully, you'll get another shot. For now, all you can do is stay home, hunker down and maybe down a shot of your own. That's what I would be doing, if I could only get to a liquor store right now.
The one upside to this relentless, city-shuttering snow is that we can all take a moment to remember that there are still things in this world that are completely out of our control. The snow will not stop falling simply because that would be convenient for you. The Super Bowl is coming, and your favorite arts organizations will be shuttered by it whether you like it or not. A theater critic will review NFL touchdown celebrations and even by that metric the Vikings will still lose to the Eagles, and there's not a single thing that you can do about it.
Winter in Minnesota is the earth reminding you that no matter how important you may think you are, you are still just a tiny, fragile, shivering thing. But as I came around the corner after my 10-minute commute from work turned into over an hour today, I happened to see a bunch of my neighbors helping our mail carrier dig her van out of the snow. She was able to get going again and finish her route. We may not be able to stop the snow from falling, but a bunch of tiny, fragile, shivering things can get together and make it a little bit easier to deal with.
There are, however, many things we can control in this world, no matter how often we have been told, "Well, it sucks, but that's the way it is." For example, Broadway has become more diverse than ever before. According to a recent study from the Asian American Performers Action Coalition, the percentage of non-Hispanic white performers on New York stages has gone down to 65%, which actually puts them roughly in line with their actual representation in the United States.
African American and Latino performers have been the primary beneficiaries of the space this has made. Black actors are actually now overrepresented on Broadway as compared to their general population percentage. (23% of roles vs. 13% of US population). Latino performers have more than doubled their representation on the stage (7%, up from 3% the previous year), but this is still well below their 16% share of the general population. And, yes, I know that the 4% number for Asian Americans on Broadway looks small, but it's pretty much in line with their 4.8% share of the general population. In a lot of ways, the New York stages are starting to look an awful lot like the country as a whole.
Whether this has come about purely by accident, by way of artists and activists demanding it, or because a certain blockbuster musical finally proved to producers that audiences don't need to see a bunch of white faces to feel safely entertained, I do not know. It is a good change, though, and hopefully the rest of the nation is following suit.
This is a big part of the reason why so many professional theater companies have such a sordid history when it comes to sexual harassment and discrimination. The #metoo movement has been making that shockingly clear as of late (despite what Liam Neeson thinks about it). Since the much-deserved fall of Weinstein last year, almost every week of News and Notes could have included a new entry in the list of theater leaders who have been credibly accused of sexual harassment. (Please welcome to the list this week, Gordon Edelstein of New York's Long Wharf Theater).
For the longest time, though, it seemed like Minnesota theaters were not going to be on this list. After all, we're far too nice and egalitarian, aren't we? We're just gosh darn special that way.
A few days ago, Molly Diers, a Lead Carpenter at the Guthrie, put up put up a Facebook post announcing her resignation from the theater. Diers cited a sexist culture in the scene shop, bred and encouraged by a manager who she judged to be under qualified for the position and hired over more qualified candidates for the job. This comes almost exactly one month after the Guthrie trotted out its new "respect in the workplace" policy. I guess the new handbook didn't quite make it down to the scene shop.
Since then another Lead Carpenter at the Guthrie has resigned in solidarity, and the word coming through the grapevine is that other women who have worked in the Guthrie scene shop in the past have felt the same way. Of course, the Guthrie has launched an investigation, but I have the distinct feeling that if Diers had not made such a bold and public step, they probably would have gone on quietly ignoring the problem as management there has always done, regardless of who's writing which new "respect" policy.
One thing is for certain: we will be hearing more about this in the days to come. In the meantime, I hope all you women in technical theater continue to have each other's backs, and I doubly hope that the rest of us can find the courage to do that, too.
This particular problem in theater is not some rampaging blizzard that we have no control over. This is a car that's been stuck in place in the snow for far too long. All of us tiny, fragile, shivering things can dig it out and get it moving in the right direction as long as we get together and decide to do it.